Sandy Springs City Council will consider the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny a proposal that would allow private schools and museums in parcels zoned as “Office Neighborhood” at its Oct. 19 meeting.

The Planning Commission made its recommendation at its Sept. 22 meeting, on the same night a private school asked for a deferral on its request to change the character area of its property on Roswell Road from Neighborhood Village to Commercial/Mixed Use. Chaya Mushka Children’s House has operated a private school at 5180 Roswell Road for three years though the current zoning does not allow that use.

Chaya Mushka Children’s House has operated a school at this Roswell Road address for three years.

Residents of adjacent protected neighborhoods objected to both the rezoning request and the separate text amendment change, either of which would open the door to private schools.

With the school’s request that the Planning Commission defer consideration of its rezoning proposal, City Council will only hold a hearing Oct. 19 on the text amendment change that would add K-12 private schools and library museums as categories allowed in the Office Neighborhood zoning classification.

James Duffy Hickey, president of the High Point Civic Association, said its members opposed both proposals. Approving the text amendment would reward an organization for operating outside of the land use plan for three years.

“Overall, we think that the city ought to stay as tight and disciplined as it can on the Next 10 plan. And that character map changes really have to be very, very carefully considered,” he said.

The association had two issues with the text amendment. One was that it appeared possible that 750 students could attend school at that Roswell Road location, Hickey said. Though the proposed changes limit a parcel to 250 students, two neighboring parcels in the same office development could add another 250 students each at that location.

The second issue is that 26 separate properties in the association’s area are zoned as Office Neighborhood. They either meet the one-acre minimum requirement or are contiguous and could be combined for development of a museum or school, Hickey said.

“We don’t have issues with museums or schools,” he said, adding the issue is how much traffic will it bring and what will it do to the area.

Hickey said Planning Commissioner Andy Porter said it best regarding problems with text amendments.

During the Planning Commission meeting, Porter said he hates text amendments and called them the worst form of land use employed by the city.

“They are almost always political in nature. They’re almost always directed at one group, and they’re almost always a political football that should not be ever considered,” he said.

In its report on the Chaya Mushka Children’s House’s rezoning application, the Sandy Springs Fire Marshal said the applicant was made aware that significant changes were required to allow educational use in the building, including adding a sprinkler system and changing exit layouts.

“This place is so wildly out of code that you don’t even know where to begin, but they have switched this into a fight now between the neighborhoods and the staff,” Porter said in describing the text amendment application.

He said since the Planning Commission began considering text amendments in 2016, he could not think of one that benefited the public. But he could think of five that benefited individuals, small groups or large corporations.

“I do not understand how we get into this process, but we need to stop and we need to amend the process, not the law. We need to amend the process so that we don’t go here again,” Porter said.

An email requesting comment from Chaya Mushka Children’s House was not returned. 

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Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.